Augmented reality is not only for cell phone games


By Quintus Potgieter

If you have been keeping your eye on news agency websites in the last two to three weeks, it is very likely that you have seen the words: AUGMENTED REALITY. If you are an avid or even a casual gamer, you’ve most likely been using augmented reality in the new game taking the world by storm. That game being Pokemon Go. A game that blends both the real world and the virtual through a cell phone screen, integrating the real and the fake on top of the geographic positioning of its player. Niantic - the company that owns the technology behind the game - has been valued at around $3 billion after the game’s recent success. The company will make $740 million this year. Whilst being an enjoyable game that all ages seem to be enjoying, the game also highlights a key technology that we will no doubt see more of in the upcoming years. Augmented reality.

Engineers have been talking about augmented reality for quite some time. The aircraft company, Boeing, says that the first time ‘augmented reality’ was ever used in a sentence, was when Thomas P. Caudell and a colleague named David Mizell were given the task to provide a system that could display data on a head-mounted display for aircraft electricians. The head-mounted display would show the engineers and technicians what the wiring and the inner-workings of the aircraft would have to look like, based on a digital example blended over the real world wiring. This would be a cost-effective way of displaying the tutorials instead of printing them out. Caudell coined the term and it has been around ever since.

Head-mounted displays that can assist engineers with their work? It sounds far-fetched and too good to be true. Well, it’s actually becoming more common than you think. In the world of today, there is considerable progress in integrating augmented and mixed reality technology into the world of civil engineering and product engineering/design industries. An engineering firm that works on infrastructure projects around the world, Aecom, has announced that they will be using the latest in augmented reality technology from Microsoft. Although, they’d prefer if you used the term “mixed reality”.

It’s called the Microsoft Hololens. It is a head-mounted display that integrates 3D virtual elements and superimposes them into and all around the real world. Autodesk’s Fusion 360 engineering design platform can be used to formulate a product on a virtual space that can be seen as the finished product in the real world through the Hololens. It takes an idea off-paper and shows a visual, virtual example of it. Additionally, the technology will revolutionize the industrial robotics industry. Engineers can wear the Hololens and work alongside each other in a 3D environment that forecasts what a factory setup or workspace might look like. The Hololens allows a mechanical engineer to stand beside a design engineer and ensures that they both work with the holographic projections simultaneously.

“The single biggest challenge for designers and engineers is really just being on the same page which is really key to making better decisions and better products overall. It’s really just communication. Tools like Hololens together with Fusion 360, it’s a single environment where you can explore your idea and share it out,” said Michael Saga, an Industrial Designer at Autodesk.

The integration of the actual real world surroundings and the integration of the virtual examples is an invaluable tool for engineers, architects, and designers alike. Real world tasks will be completed in a more efficient manner thanks to the introduction of augmented reality technology into engineering industries. Amir H. Behzadan, Suyang Dong, and Vineet R. Kamat co-authored a chapter on augmented reality in engineering industries in the book Fundamental of Wearable Computers and Augmented Reality. They show that augmented reality technology has seen development in the AEC industry.

The AEC industry (architecture, engineering, and construction) will benefit from new augmented reality applications alongside the current ones in existence. The authors say that augmented reality would assist with the following AEC processes: layout, excavation, spatial positioning, inspection, coordination, supervision and strategizing. They demonstrate this by including a picture of a head-mounted AR system that displays which parts of an on-site project are on schedule, and which are behind schedule through the virtual measurements of a real-world site. Furthermore, the AR systems could be beneficial in pipeline design, and more notably, measuring the damage of buildings after a natural disaster. Measuring the strength of a structure through an AR display could improve safety and security for structural engineers, who need to ensure the safety of a build.

According to the book, the University of Craiova in Romania has contributed invaluable research into augmented reality applications in engineering industries. Namely, in mechanical engineering, the university’s researchers conducted a test of AR technology that could see the heat distribution signatures of heavy machinery. The researchers also said that the car industry will also benefit greatly from AR because the technical visualizations the technology provides will give a view of the inner-workings of the car without having to pull it apart. Also seeing a finished car design without the actual car being built is now possible with augmented reality. The researchers also pointed out that with structural engineering, AR technology could instruct welders where to weld to ensure the strongest structures.

For engineering firms, especially in the architecture, engineering and construction industries, augmented reality might be a good investment, which could provide more efficiency in daily work. Even for engineers in product design fields, or any design engineer in any engineering field,  augmented reality could improve output in a big way. In the end, the engineering world should be thanking the little pocket monster Pokemon for fast-tracking the expansion of augmented reality.


Barfield, W. (n.d.). Fundamentals of wearable computers and augmented reality.
Hololens video: